The FCC yesterday signaled that it is ready to support 5G mobile network expansion into rural areas sooner rather than later. It announced plans for a $9 billion, 10-year “5G Fund.” The universal service program would replace more 4G-focused Mobility Fund Phase-II program. Like MF-II, the FCC foresees a reverse auction to distribute funding for wireless networks in hard-to-reach rural areas, but with greater emphasis on building networks to support precision agriculture, internet of things and other advances associated with 5G.
“We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a press release. “In order to do that, the Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow. Moreover, America’s farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, as I’ve seen across the country.”
But like wireline universal service programs, wireless programs depend on accurate wireless coverage maps, which the FCC has been so-far unable to produce. “Staff recommends that the Commission terminate the MF-II challenge process,” according to an internal FCC staff report on wireless mapping the Commission released yesterday with announcement of the 5G Fund plan. “Despite the extensive efforts of staff and challengers that contributed to the challenge process, the submitted coverage maps are not a sufficiently accurate basis upon which to continue a process meant to address coverage disputes at the margins. The challenge process was not designed to correct generally overstated coverage maps.”
The report recommended steps to improve map quality:
- Stricter enforcement of rules for reporting accurate coverage information on FCC Form 477 and for reporting in the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection (RDOF-related) process.
- Assemble a team to regularly audit coverage maps and review Form 477 submissions, especially submissions from large national wireless carriers.
- Require carriers to submit a wider range of data to achieve a more granular and standardized picture of wireless coverage. “Providers should submit more than just projections of coverage; providers should be required to submit actual speed test data sampling that verifies the accuracy of their propagation models,” according to the report.
“Obtaining accurate maps for mobile wireless services has proven particularly vexing, and in just the past several months, the FCC adopted new provisions to develop better maps for fixed and mobile services alike through a combination of more precise technical standards for reporting and public stakeholder input and challenges,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association in a statement. “NTCA looks forward to reviewing the FCC’s proposal to create a new 5G Fund for rural America.”